As time goes by

Updated: 2011-03-13 08:01

By Gan Tian (China Daily)

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As time goes by 

Among the historical clients of Vacheron Constantin (from left): A Maharaja of Patiala and the ruler of the princely state of Patiala in Punjab in India, King Farouk I of Egypt, and King Fuad I of Egypt. Photos Provided to China Daily

 As time goes by

The Vacheron Constantin watches (from top) ordered by King Fuad I of Egypt, King Farouk I of Egypt, and the Indian maharaja.

As time goes by

Some of the most classic names in timepieces are settling in China. Gan Tian visits one new arrival.

Drop in for tea at 796 Huaihai Lu in the center of Shanghai, and you cannot fail to be impressed by the sprawling English-style landscaped garden and the 1920s colonial villa there. This well-preserved mansion is now home to a Swiss luxury watchmaker, Vacheron Constantin. Dominique Bernaz is a frequent visitor here since it opened in 2008. The villa, named Vacheron Constantin Mansion, is an elegant store with a collectors?salon, a customer service center, and home to the label's vaunted "Atelier Cabinotiers Special Order?service.

Bernaz is in charge of it all. His clients include billionaires and big names, and Bernaz guards the names on the list with dedication.

The personalized service allows a unique watch to be created specifically for the client. That may mean taking a classic watch from the existing collections, and making a few changes. For example, one client wanted to add a few diamonds to the Historiques American 1921 time piece.

Bernaz guarantees his client that it is the only one in the world.

Clients may also choose to create an entirely new watch, matching strap, dial and other accessories. For example, a client once demanded a watch embellished with Alexandrite, a rare gemstone named after the Russian tsar.

Fortunately, Bernaz was a former professional diamond buyer and he had the know-how of the business.

"I was a stone guy before I became a watch guy. I know it is very rare. It changes colors in daylight to artificial light from green to red. I knew where to find it," he says.

Bernaz and his team can also develop a totally new watch for clients, designing the mechanism, case and design from scratch.

One of his most unusual requests was by a collector, who wanted to combine a 24-hour hand and a minute repeater.

"He spoke to our CEO and said he wanted a watch that really doesn't tell the time. He wanted it to be more an accessory."

The most complicated watch he had ever made in the "Atelier Cabinotiers Special Order" was one that had 17 different specifications including a request for Tourbillon, a minute repeater and a perpetual calendar.

Shan Wei, regional communication director for Vacheron Constantin Asia Pacific, explained the whole process, which takes a lot of time and money.

The client first sends in a request, and Bernaz flies out to meet the client, listens to his specifications and sketches out the first draft.

Later, Bernaz will return to the factory for a discussion with the watchmakers. If there are no obstacles, he confirms the delivery time and cost with the client.

Vacheron Constantin can fulfill almost all requests, no matter how difficult, but there is a quota and the company entertains only 40 special clients a year.

These requests don't bring in the big bucks, contrary to expectations.

"It's not profitable, unlike regular production. To my CEO, it's a question of prestige," Shan said.

"Also, you can get inspired while communicating with your clients, and you get to know your clients better."


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